Stewart Cink broke the heart of Tom Watson – not to mention the entirety of the watching sporting world – here last night when denying the 59-year-old in a play-off for the 138th Open Championship. Watson would have become the oldest winner of a major, but instead was left to bemoan a bogey on the final hole of regulation play.
From the back of the 18th green, Watson had two putts to win his sixth Claret Jug and so equal Harry Vardon's record haul. But the veteran, who just eight months ago underwent a hip replacement operation, chased his first effort eight feet past and then missed the one coming back. That forced him into a four-hole play-off with his fellow American.
Cink, who at 36 is Watson's junior by 23 years, dominated the extra holes, prevailing by six shots to win his first major. It was an anti-climatic end to a day of rich drama. All the steadiness which characterised Watson's four rounds dissolved on the fateful 17th, the third play-off hole, when he fell foul of Turnberry's fearsome rough and double-bogeyed. In contrast, Cink birdied the par-five and went on to birdie the last as well.
"Extraordinary is just the tip of the iceberg here," said Cink, who matched Watson's 72-hole total of two-under with a 69. "Playing against Tom Watson? This stuff just does not happen. I grew up watching him – he has turned back the clock and I feel so happy just being part of it. Tom is amazing. An inspiration to all. What a competitor, what a champion."
That was the unanimous verdict at Turnberry. The huge crowds chanted "Tommy, Tommy" as he walked up to the 18th green for the second time in the evening. All week, the Ailsa Course had been held spell-bound by Watson's attempt to shatter golf's previous record for the oldest major winner – Julius Boros who won the 1968 USPGA Championship at the age of 48. With the added poignancy of Watson having won the "Duel in The Sun" here against Jack Nicklaus 32 years before, this will go down as one of the most remarkable Opens. If not the most remarkable. "I just felt I could do it," Watson said. "I felt I had the game to win it here. I couldn't have done it anywhere else. This place suits me. I feel at home."
Watson was then asked what the morning's headlines should read. "The old fogey nearly did it," he replied.
Meanwhile, there was also a fine home showing with two Britons, Lee Westwood and Chris Wood, sharing third place, one shot behind.
Westwood, who eagled the par-five seventh for a brief two-stroke lead, faltered after the turn on the way to a 71, while Wood, who came third as an amateur in last year's Open at Birkdale, stormed through the field with a 67. Both would have been in the play-off if they had not bogeyed the last hole.